Geraldine Brooks

Last week Geraldine Brook’s new novel Caleb’s Crossing made it to number 1 on the Independent books top 10 list.* It was released on May 3.

It’s fantastic that an Australian female author, who writes historical fiction has made it to number 1 in such a short amount of time, and plays into the recent debate about literary awards, chick lit (or perceived chick lit) and the ongoing saga of historical fiction not selling well. Continue reading →

The Slap – Charaters, Themes or Both

I have just finished reading The Slap, and have been toying with the idea of blogging about it. For a while there I thought I was the only person who hadn’t attempted to read it. I say attempt because some of the people I spoke to stopped reading half way through. It is a book that everyone seems to have an opinion on so I thought I should read it.  I was discussing blogging about it today with a colleague who said, “You have to write about it, everybody is reading it, even my friends who don’t read are reading it. Do you think I should read it?”

That’s when I realised what the novel has become. It’s the book that you feel you need to read. It’s what The Belljar is to teenage girls, it’s what On the Road is to travel-types, it’s what Anna Karenina is to Russian lit tragic – it’s the new Shantaram.

But is it anything more than that? And does it need to be?

When I think about analysis of this novel I need to think beyond the characters to the themes – friendship, loyalty, or perceived loyalty, honesty, integrity, family, sex and lust. The novel makes a strong basis from these themes and Tsiolkas is well aware of the preconceived notions we bring to these as readers. Each reader has a different opinion before they pick up the book and they might not leave with the same opinions they had at the start. In fact the novel isn’t really about the ‘slap’, these characters would have had issues regardless of the slap, it’s the issues that really make the novel.

But on the majority of reviews I’ve read the themes are glossed over and the focus is on the characterisation. Like most people I’ve discussed it with the characters irritated me. Basically I’d describe the men as selfish ‘cunts’ to use the language of the novel (although I am adverse to references to female genitalia being used as an insult – but that’s another issue). I thought most of the women used their marital status as a defence mechanism. The characterisation did have an affect on me – I started getting paranoid about what men were really thinking while they were having conversations with me – was there an internal dialogue of abuse going on purely because I have a vagina? I also looked up some of my favourite male bloggers to see what they thought in the hope that they would tell me that men really aren’t that bad.

So are we missing the point of the novel if all we see are the characters? Or is it impossible to remove these themes from the characterisation – if I don’t like the characters maybe I just can’t cope with what it means to be Australian today? Can we separate loyalty, honesty, integrity, family, sex and lust from people and look at this from a theoretic perspective – or is that just a waste of time, when humans embody these elements?

Here are some links to some great articles if you are interested in reading more. (Or perhaps just tick it off the ‘must read or I’m missing out on the debate’ list and move on.)  

http://ikandel.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/the-fearless-observer-christos-tsiolkas-on-the-slap/

http://inside.org.au/suburban-mayhem/

The Female Eunuch – 40 years later

2010 was the 40th anniversary of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. I decided to use the occasion to re-read the book and write a post about my thoughts. That was in November. The problem is that when I had finished I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. In conjunction with the The Female Eunuch I also read An Untamed Shrew, Greer’s unauthorised biography written by Christine Wallace. And of course at the start of the year I read that Louis Nowra piece in The Monthly.

I’ve been perplexed about which approach to take when writing the piece. An encompassing history of what the book means to Australian women? An historical perspective? The book’s flaws? All of these approaches felt too wide, so I have decided to write about my own relationship with the book. Continue reading →

Utopian Man by Lisa Lang

I’m in love with a novel, with a story and with a character. I’ve just finished Lisa Lang’s Utopian Man (published by Allen and Unwin 2010). I have written previously about attending her launch and my excitement about reading the book. I had read Lang’s Chasing the Rainbow, a brilliant little book published by Arcade publishing. When I saw that Utopian Man had won the Australian/Vogel award I locked the launch in my diary and made sure I was there.

I have finally had a chance to read the novel and I think it’s wonderful. I feel like shouting the story of Edward Cole from the rooftops of Bourke Street and forcing people to listen. I feel like setting up a memorial day and forcing people to celebrate the magic of what was Cole’s Book Arcade. When I think of the hoards that loaf through Bourke Street during the Christmas period I feel like shouting “what if it could feel like Christmas every day but without the religious sentiment and the brash commercialism, without the guilt of necessity of purchase. This is what we once had in Melbourne, right here, but no one seems to remember.” Perhaps that is what I loved about this book, it has inspired me to love, to feel nostalgic, to feel anger, it’s inspired me to feel. Continue reading →

Aussie YA fiction

I’ve recently been thrown back into the world of Young Adult (YA) novels. I am a fan, but I don’t often read them. But a few things in the last few weeks have got me thinking about the importance of YA novels in Australia.

Boomerang Books released the results from their survey on the most popular Aussie novels, not based on sales, but on a survey where readers indicated which novels they had read in their entirety. I’ve detailed the top 24 below but the entire list is worth a look. Continue reading →

Most Popular Aussie Novels

Boomerang Books have complied their feedback and the list is in…

I received an email a few weeks ago asking me to tick a box against a list of Australian novels that I had read from start to finish. Boomerang Books had planned to compile a list of favourite Aussie books based not on sales, but on the number of people who had read them cover to cover. The results are now in and anybody signed up to their newsletter is getting a daily update, counting backwards from 24, all the way to number one which will be release on Christmas eve.

I’ve really been enjoying getting my emails. They come with a brief synopsis, information on the author and of course, a link to where to buy the books. So far the finalists have been:

#19 – My Place by Sally Morgan
#20 – For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke
#21 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
#22 – Dirt Music by Tim Winton
#23 – Breath by Tim Winton
#24 – So Much to Tell You by John Marsden.

If you are interested in following the list, take a look here.

Paul Kelly – How to Make Gravy

In his book In Sunshine or in Shadow, Martin Flanagan says of Paul Kelly:

The generation of singer-songwriters of which he is the best known member are to the 1980s and ‘90s what the Bulletin poets were a century before, the people who travelled this land, collecting its stories, and singing them into the consciousness of the people.

This comparison resonates with me, but I would go one step further. Continue reading →

More than football – Melbourne’s History

This week I went to the book launch of Lisa Lang’s Utopian Man. It is a fictional re-imagining of the life of E.W. Cole, the creator of the wonderful Cole’s Book Arcade. The arcade began as a small second-hand book stall in the Eastern Market in 1865 and eventually became an Arcade from Bourke Street through to Collins Street, closing in 1931. Within that time the arcade included its own press, which produced the famous Cole’s Funny Picture Books, its own set of coins, a cage of monkeys and a Chinese tea salon to name just a few of wild and wonderful things. Continue reading →